Guest Article- Isaiah 23- the Destruction of Tyre – Rod MacArthur
Here is another great article on Isaiah- this time on Isaiah 23 and the Destruction of Tyre— by Rod MacArthur
Isaiah 231–7—Destruction of Tyre & Sidon
The oracle concerning Tyre.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For Tyre is destroyed, without house or harbor;
It is reported to them from the land of Cyprus.
Be silent, you inhabitants of the coastland,
You merchants of Sidon;
Your messengers crossed the sea
And were on many waters.
The grain of the Nile, the harvest of the River was her revenue;
And she was the market of nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon;
For the sea speaks, the stronghold of the sea, saying,
“I have neither travailed nor given birth,
I have neither brought up young men nor reared virgins.”
When the report reaches Egypt,
They will be in anguish at the report of Tyre.
Pass over to Tarshish;
Wail, O inhabitants of the coastland.
Is this your jubilant city,
Whose origin is from antiquity,
Whose feet used to carry her to colonize distant places?
The Mediterranean region was crying out because of the destruction of Tyre. Tarshish was a city on the coast of Spain. Thus, ships of Tarshish were ships that were able to sail to Spain, through the straits of Gibraltar, even out into the Atlantic. These ships were lavishly adorned (read in Ezek. 26–27 how opulent they became through their expertise and wealth). The world’s commerce depended upon Tyre’s ships, successful cargo carriers, to move merchandise to market.
If this highly successful shipper/broker were to take a drastic cut, what about the world’s harbors, merchants, and populace? They all depended on Tyre’s ships to carry cargo to and from harbor. Clearly, revenue and income would be drastically cut. The fall of Tyre would not simply affect Tyre, it would impact every merchant who was connect to Tyre through their distribution network. The pending fall of Tyre would carry tremendous world impact.
One illustration is this. She carried the grain of the Nile. She also carried the harvest of the River (probably, as in other places, “River” refers to the Euphrates). Both brought her revenue; both depended on her for theirs. She was the world’s market.
Along our Snake River are massive storage piles of inland wheat and other grain, awaiting the long float down the Snake and Columbia to Portland and Astoria, Oregon. Millions of acres of wheat from Washington, Oregon and Idaho make their way to the world markets today through those two cities (and others). What if a Chinese bombing raid decimated those port cities? Inland farmers would suffer. Port merchants would suffer. Sellers abroad would suffer. And all who depended on grain for bread would go hungry. World-wide impact would be inevitable.
Thus it would be in the days when Babylon, Alexander, and finally Rome crushed Tyre. The whole world would suffer. Compare this to Rev. 18, where the impact of Jerusalem’s destruction is bemoaned.
An interesting point emerges in v. 4. The “stronghold of the sea” certainly refers to Tyre. She had never “travailed.” Throughout the Bible (even in Matt. 24!) “travail” describes the agony of foreign invasion that leads to a new beginning; a new birth, of sorts. Up to this point in history, Tyre had remained unscathed by any invasion of this magnitude. In part, no doubt, this was true because of her vital role of world market magnate. Though Tyre had not yet experienced such invasion, and though the surrounding nations depended on her stability for their own commercial flow; still, Yahweh had something new planned. And, it was planned with a key lesson in view.
Isaiah 238–12—Invasion was decreed by Yahweh of hosts
Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
Yahweh of hosts has planned it, to defile the pride of all beauty,
To despise all the honored of the earth.
Overflow your land like the Nile, O daughter of Tarshish,
There is no more restraint.
He has stretched His hand out over the sea,
He has made the kingdoms tremble;
Yahweh has given a command concerning Canaan to demolish its strongholds.
He has said, “You shall exult no more,
O crushed virgin daughter of Sidon.
Arise, pass over to Cyprus; even there you will find no rest.”
From verses 8–9 we understand that Tyre was prominent. Through her wealth and commerce, she wielded great influence. As one who bestowed crowns, Tyre influenced other nations’ policies, up to and including who would rule those nations! The destruction of Tyre was determined!
Yahweh of hosts planned Tyre’s demise. Every merchant from every nation depended upon Tyre for commerce to flow. They were clearly interest in her continued services. So, who would design her destruction? Yahweh of hosts planned it! But, why did He plan it? By humbling and subduing Tyre, He could “defile the pride of all beauty.” That is, with her fall God showed everyone that commercial enterprise and attaining opulent wealth was not an answer to the age-old quest for security. As in Tyre’s case, Yahweh’s determination is all it takes to fall. God planned Tyre’s demise to despise all pride of all beauty of all nations, for all time.
The point is clear, there is no security in great wealth of commerce. Security must be sought elsewhere. Previously we learned that mankind’s only security is in Zion. Every bastion of human security has been shown to be inadequate. One by one Isaiah exposed their emptiness. The admonition is, come to God; He has established Zion. You will be as secure as ever you want to be in God’s Zion.
Verses 10–12 are challenging. It seems that Isaiah points to a mass migration from Tyre; but it will be useless. The “daughter of Tarshish,” is a reference to Tyre; indicating her ethnic roots. Or, perhaps it refers to her commercial partner on the western edge of the Mediterranean. (Tyre’s ocean-going vessels were called “ships of Tarshish.” See Vv. 1, 14; also, consider Yahweh’s power and control over Tyre as suggested by Psa. 48:7.)
Even if she were to flee to other islands—like Cyprus—she would still find no rest. There is no escape when Yahweh determines to punish or destroy. Isaiah said as much in view of God giving her up to Babylon for 70 years. After that she would come back and be a harlot again.
Read more about this in Ezekiel 26–27. It’s a fascinating story. The events of Tyre’s subsequent demise—first at the unsuccessful efforts of Nebuchadnezzar followed by Alexander and other lesser invasions—form one of the great evidences of the Bible’s inspiration. Here, however, it’s fascinating that Isaiah would say, “pass over to Cyprus.” When Nebuchadnezzar attempted to conquer Tyre, it was a 13-year siege, but he could not breech its wall. When he finally did, it was because it had become totally evacuated. During that 13 years the people of Tyre moved everything out to an island half-mile off shore. Their city was walled all the way to the Mediterranean shore. The Babylonians could not breech the wall to conquer Tyre. When they finally did breech it, everything precious of Tyre—including ships, people, and possession—had been moved out to that island.
Isaiah 2313–18—Seventy Years Later
Behold, the land of the Chaldeans—this is the people which was not; Assyria appointed it for desert creatures—they erected their siege towers, they stripped its palaces, they made it a ruin.
Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
For your stronghold is destroyed.
Now in that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot:
Take your harp, walk about the city,
O forgotten harlot;
Pluck the strings skillfully, sing many songs,
That you may be remembered.
It will come about at the end of seventy years that Yahweh will visit Tyre. Then she will go back to her harlot’s wages and will play the harlot with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth.
Her gain and her harlot’s wages will be set apart to Yahweh; it will not be stored up or hoarded, but her gain will become sufficient food and choice attire for those who dwell in the presence of the Lord.
Isaiah said, “the land of Chaldeans,” naming the Chaldeans as Yahweh’s weapon against Tyre. From history we know of Nebuchadnezzar’s 13-year siege. From the beginning of that siege until the end, 70 years of dormancy were determined for Tyre, before she re-engaged in commerce. But look closely at v. 13, “behold the land of the Chaldeans–this is the people which was not; Assyria appointed it for desert creatures.” Chaldeans had not yet attained prominence when Isaiah penned this; nor had Tyre yet fled to the island. Instead he notes that Assyria had decided Babylon should be nothing more than desert creatures. Assyria’s intention and determination were for Babylon’s demise. Flying in the face of Assyria’s intent—the Assyria who dominated the world when Isaiah wrote—Isaiah boldly wrote that it was the Chaldeans who would humble Tyre.
The reality is, that’s exactly what happened. The Chaldeans rose up, over-threw the Assyrian, and in the course of expanding their boundaries, came to Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar did lay that 13-year siege, he did come up empty, and then he marched on Egypt. There he collected big time, as Yahweh had promised. But how did Isaiah know it would be the Chaldeans—who were being completely suppressed by the Assyrians—that they would be the ones to do this to Tyre? How did Isaiah know that Tyre would flee to the islands?
For the seventy years of Chaldean domination, Tyre stayed subdued. But once Babylon fell, Tyre returned to business. She never returned to her mainland site, however. When Alexander the Great stormed through the region, Tyre was still on her off-shore island. By then she had returned to the business of being the prostitute of commercialism. (He called her a harlot, a fancy word for prostitute.) She sold her soul for money in the commercial World. Wealth was her goal. The harlot reemerged after 70 years. (This use of “harlot” for mercenary mercantilism is one of the underlying factors in calling Jerusalem the “Great Harlot”; Rev. 181–3.)
Ezekiel was much bolder. Ezekiel predicted wave after wave of nations would come up against Tyre. Babylon laid siege to Tyre for 13 years and came up empty after Tyre fled to her island. So Nebuchadnezzar left all walls, city structures, streets, squares, and whatever was in the city. He just left it all, because there was no booty to carry away. All wealth had been removed. He conquered the city, burned what he could, and left the rest just as a shell. Yet Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would be scrapped right down to bedrock, that nothing but bare rock for the spreading of nets would be there. After Nebuchadnezzar left, there was nothing more to attack. What would motivate anybody to go in and scrape this empty ghost town down to bedrock and throw her debris into the sea? Ezekiel predicted this very thing, but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t do it.
However, when Alexander was on his world-conquest, he wanted to worship in the temple located in the island city of Tyre. They were willing to acknowledge Alexander as lord, but they were not willing to admit him into their city. Enraged, he decided to take the city. He tried to take it by naval force, but of course, he couldn’t. The Tyreans were far superior as seamen, far better equipped than Alexander. So, being a master tactician, he changed his strategy. He would drive his chariots out to the island and lay siege with his army. How to drive chariots half a mile across the sea was his challenge. He concluded: build a ramp (causeway). But, how does one build such a causeway? Taking all the debris from the old city and throwing it into the sea, he made his causeway. With that causeway intact, he attacked the city and conquered it. And so, she was laid bare, right down to bedrock; just like Ezekiel said.
Though Ezekiel expanded the demise of Tyre; the point to make on Isaiah’s treatment of Tyre is that having opulent wealth and having a watery girdle did not keep Tyre secure. It doesn’t matter how much wealth anyone might accumulate, it doesn’t matter how much isolation anyone might have from outside threats; if you’re not in Zion, you’re not secure. The destruction of Tyre is powerful testimony!
That man’s only true security is found in Zion is really the point of this entire section. Consider the various exposed useless alternate sources of security: great wealth, honorable leader, increasing national defense, isolationism, fall of a major tyrant, fall of an empire, strong and valuable allies, wise counselors, even idols—none of these were protection for the world in which they were living. None of these kept the darkness from pervading the land, none of them protected the inhabitants from the crush of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Alexander and the Grecians, and Romans. None of them provided deliverance or safety. The only trustworthy event in which man could find security was that out of darkness God built Zion and invited people to come. Their security—and ours—is only in Zion.
That was Isaiah’s point: God would raise up the mountain of His house above all the mountains (2:2). The nations would flow into it. They would learn concerning His ways and walk in His paths. The law would go forth from Zion; and from there, security. That is Isaiah central message.